Wednesday marks the 24th anniversary of a 6.7-magnitude earthquake centered in Northridge that damaged much of Santa Clarita, in addition to effectively cutting the young city off from the Los Angeles basin.
Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar, who was president of the Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce at the time, said the 1971 San Fernando earthquake — a 6.6-magnitude tumbler that also struck the Santa Clarita Valley — didn’t compare to the shocks that emanated from Northridge.
“I can sum it up in two words: sweet Lord. The ’94 quake made the ’71 quake look like child’s play,” he said. “I will never forget the ’94 quake.”
Kellar credited former mayor George Pederson, who passed away in 2015, and former city manager George Caravalho for keeping the city running post-earthquake.
“George Pederson was a remarkable mayor to have at that time,” he said. “I can’t believe how well we got back on our feet.”
Kellar said that since the earthquake, the city has created a contingency emergency reserve fund that amounts to $18 million currently.
Councilwoman Marsha McLean and Kellar said City Hall had been red-tagged, and city leaders were working out of big tents in a parking lot while the building was being rebuilt. McLean said the city had programs that helped residents prepare for the quake.
“Luckily, Santa Clarita had this program called Secure that got residents ready for emergencies,” she said. “We were pretty well-prepared. That was a very valuable program.”
Donna Nuzzi, the head of the city’s emergency management department, said the Community Emergency Response Team program, launched in 1997, now handles what Secure did back in 1994.
Kellar and McLean both were impacted by the earthquake. Kellar’s house suffered damage while McLean said her husband was running late for work that morning, and was outside when the quake hit.
McLean also referred to the death of Los Angeles Police Department Officer Clarence Wayne Dean, who died after falling from a partially collapsed bridge at the intersection of the 5 and 14 freeways. The intersection has since been named in his honor.
McLean said getting between the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys was difficult, noting one of her sons had to drive through Tujunga Canyon to reach his apartment in the San Fernando Valley.
“Metrolink was the only link to the Valley,” she said.
Nuzzi said the growth of Metrolink—which has three stations in Santa Clarita—could be traced to the earthquake.
“That’s what started the wave of Metrolink ridership,” she said.
City Hall was retrofitted after the earthquake and again in 2014, Nuzzi added, noting the city also was lauded for how it recycled debris after the quake.
Nuzzi said the city was reimbursed $27 million in infrastructure damage due to the earthquake.
“The damage to our infrastructure,” she said, citing multiple bridges across the Santa Clara River and the intersection of Calgrove Boulevard and the 5 Freeway, “was huge.”